Surkhuri (Сурхури) is a holiday with a rich history originating from the times of ancient Chuvash culture. This festive winter event occurs at the winter solstice, which signifies the beginning of a period of longer days. It is a traditional festival that lasts up to a week, during which heartfelt celebrations and rituals take place. The adoption of Christianity had the festival assimilating with Christian Christmas, which extends until the Epiphany and retains the cultural flavor of the original event. Surkhuri has always been celebrated as a time to express gratitude for one’s blessings and to ensure the economic success and well-being of individuals in the upcoming year. In line with this, numerous rituals are conducted to appease the gods, ensure a good harvest, and guarantee the reproduction of livestock in abundance.
Surkhuri is a highly anticipated holiday in this cultural community, and the preparations for this event begin well in advance. The community members eagerly anticipate the occasion by brewing their own beer, and purchasing and storing the highest quality nuts and seeds in order to ensure the perfect taste and flavor. The day of Surkhuri is filled with hustle and bustle as the community comes together to prepare pies. The pies are baked to perfection, with a light and flaky crust that makes your mouth water as soon as you take a bite. The main attraction of this magical culinary tradition is the wonderfully aromatic pea pie, which boasts an array of flavors. The aroma of the freshly baked pies and sizzling peas fills the air, and the community comes together to enjoy an unforgettable meal, which is a major highlight of Surkhuri.
How the celebration begins
The customs and traditions surrounding this holiday are deeply rooted in the culture of the villagers. It is a fest that celebrates community and the coming together of families and friends. Children typically kick off the festivities by waking up early in the morning, filled with excitement and joy, as they embark on a ride through the village. Once gathered in groups, they begin their journey towards the homes of their neighbors and loved ones. The atmosphere is one of warmth and cheer as they go door to door, offering congratulatory greetings and well-wishes to everyone they encounter. The hosts are expected to extend a gracious welcome, offering pies and delicious treats, including nuts, seeds and fried peas. The success of this holiday is believed to be linked to children being warmly received, as it is believed that if they are not, the cattle will not breed. It is a time of great joy and unity, a celebration of community that is cherished by all who experience it.
On Surkhuri days, families eagerly await the arrival of their guests. Both children and adults greatly anticipate this special occasion, as they know they will be treating each other to a delicious spread of nuts, peas, and pies. There is a tradition of noting who will be the first visitor to arrive. When the first guest arrives, they are always offered a comfortable seat on a cushion as a gesture of hospitality. However, it’s important for the visitor to sit calmly and quietly, as there is a belief that this will ensure the hatching of young chicks by the hen. In addition to these customs, people also closely monitor the weather, as a snowy celebration portends a bountiful harvest of nuts for the year.
Celebration and fortune telling
Surkhuri is a festive event that is greatly enjoyed by the young and old alike. During this time, people come together to celebrate by visiting their relatives, congratulating them on the holiday, singing and dancing. The youth, in particular, enjoy this time by gathering together in groups, having fun and partaking in different activities. The evenings are especially exciting as people come together in rented houses. Here they collect flour, cereals, malt, hops and anything else that they can use. The girls take the lead and begin brewing beer and baking delicious pies. As night falls, the young men arrive and the real fun begins. The gathering starts with the girls doing some needlework and then the guys come in, ready to sing, dance, play games and even engage in the tradition of fortune telling. There is never a dull moment during Surkhuri!
Fortune telling on New Year’s Eve has been a deeply-rooted tradition in many villages for centuries. The evening is considered especially prophetic, and people gather in groups to participate in the festivities. Amid the revelry, there is usually a sense of worry and concern about how the coming year will turn out. Additionally, mummers dressed up as evil forces, roam the streets, embodying the obstacles that will need to be overcome in the coming year. It is believed that those who dress up need to cleanse themselves by taking a swim in an ice hole. Meanwhile, believers draw crosses on windows and doors to keep their homes protected from the malevolent forces. After Epiphany, mummers disappear from the street, and the New Year holiday cycle concludes. This cherished tradition allows people to celebrate the end of the year together, while also acknowledging the challenges that the future may hold.